The news of Michael Jackson’s death on Thursday was big for both Mainstream and Social Media. It put the troubles in Iran, the indiscretions of a U.S. Governor and the death of Farrah Fawcett on the back burner.
About mid-afternoon Pacific Time there was much consternation on Twitter due to conflicting reports – the LA Times was saying Jackson was dead, while CNN was saying that he was in a coma. The tone of some of the tweets was almost angry that the most immediate information could not be confirmed.
Now, there are stories being written on how Jackson’s death almost “killed the Internet”. The millions of people searching for news apparently slowed down Google for a 35 minute period in the afternoon and – gasp! – the average time it took to access the home pages of top media sites jumped from 4.2 seconds to 8.9 seconds. Oh, and the Fail Whale showed up a couple times on Twitter.
The outpouring of interest in Michael Jackson’s death illustrates two of the seven news values that I teach in my media training seminars. The most obvious one is that celebrity trumps everything and a bigger celebrity trumps a lesser one (sorry, Fawcett fans).
But the most interesting news value at play here is immediacy. Don’t let the inevitable discussion of whether old media or new media did a better job distract you, it was all about who got there first.
I’m willing to bet that many of the people searching social media sites for updates turned to CNN on television, as I did, when Jackson’s white-shrouded body was taken from a helicopter into the coroner’s van. The pictures were live and immediate and, whether we like it or not, that made them news.